Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, characterized by intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, and hyperarousal.

In the criminal law context, PTSD can be raised as a defense in cases where a defendant has committed a crime due to their mental state. PTSD is a recognized medical condition and can be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional.

The use of PTSD as a criminal defense has been met with varying degrees of success in the legal system. Some argue that PTSD should be treated as a mitigating factor that can reduce a defendant’s culpability for their actions, particularly in cases where the traumatic event is directly related to the crime they have committed.

For example, a veteran who has developed PTSD due to their service in combat may be more likely to experience intense fear or anxiety during a confrontation, leading them to react impulsively and violently. In such cases, PTSD may be raised as a defense to argue that the defendant’s actions were a direct result of their mental state and that they should not be held fully responsible for their behavior.

However, using PTSD as a criminal defense can also be controversial. Some argue that it can be difficult to prove that a defendant’s actions were directly caused by their PTSD and that it may be used as a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for defendants who have committed serious crimes.

Furthermore, some experts argue that the criminal justice system is not well-equipped to address the underlying issues related to PTSD, such as access to mental health care and support for veterans and other trauma survivors.  Ultimately, the use of PTSD as a criminal defense will depend on the specific facts of each case and the legal and medical experts involved.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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